I guess “I’m pregnant” (at the wrong time) would top the Dreaded Words’ List, but given their frequency and sustained onslaught throughout childhood and teenage, “I’m bored” wins hands down as the words that make you go “Not again!” as a parent.
It’s interesting to see how this starts. Initially, your baby is fascinated by everything – she can sit in her pram looking at the blue sky, at the table leg, at people milling about her. She can lie in her crib staring for hours at the mobile hanging above. She can spend days trying to stuff her toes into her mouth or chew the button-eyes off a teddy bear.
She has no time to be bored when she begins toddling – she’s everywhere at the same time: touching, falling, pushing, standing, tumbling, bumping into things, knocking them over. She’s too busy experiencing the power of being able to reach things and people to be bored.
Then you begin training her to sit still on her own with crayons, or a pencil. She can do this for a bit, but then she wants you, or she wants to move on to something else. Like the furniture, floor, walls, bed linen, closet doors, fridge. You walk in and start hyperventilating when you see what she’s done.
You may scream, scold, exclaim, explain. Or Not. But it’s clear that you feel the need to Do Something About It.
After telling her why what she’s done is wrong (if you think so, and that’s a topic for another post), you experiment with colors again. Maybe you decide to let her color for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, come and check on her, praise the work she’s done, encourage her to move to another page or draw something else, check on her again in a while, and so on.
There will come a day when you get impatient – you need to complete some chores, and you need a clear 30 minutes, which your toddler won’t give you. So you switch on the TV (if you haven’t already done so), plonk her in front of it, and disappear, secure in the knowledge that the moving pictures and sound will ‘keep her busy’ till you are done with your work.
And she sits still and ‘keeps out of trouble’ till you get your work done. In fact, when you switch off the TV, you’re likely to be visited with a major tantrum, because she wants to watch more!
And she’s addicted. It’s as simple as that.
As a parent, you are under pressure from two sources: one, your child throws a fit because he wants to watch more TV; two, your own need for time in which to accomplish tasks.
Or maybe your child is a fussy eater, and you’ve come up with TV as a way to distract him from the fact that he’s eating. With all his senses tuned to the absorbing story on TV, he opens his mouth like a robot when the spoon reaches his lips. You prod him a few times to chew what’s in his mouth. You remind him to swallow. Then you give him the next bite. Of course, the eating is happening on the sidelines. The action is elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, you find you’ve given in to more and more TV, till your child gets used to being entertained. He has to do nothing – just sit there, and be entertained.
Countless studies have shown that television blunts the intelligence of a child. It leads to cognitive and behavioral problems, retards children’s development, encourages violence – the list goes on and on.
But we turn to it as the simple, short-term solution to our needing a small chunk of time when we don’t need to actively engage with our children. And it becomes a monster that threatens to gobble us up.
One fine day, you decide enough is enough, and you won’t give in. He’ll have to learn to do something else. He throws the ball back into your court. “I’m bored!”
Initially, you play. “Why don’t you try reading a book? This one? That one?” “Play with your blocks.” “Solve a jigsaw puzzle.” “Draw / color something.” (This could go awry, but you’re firm about keeping him away from the TV.)
After a bit, you find it’s no good. He’ll pop up like the proverbial jack-in-the-box, and say, “I’m bored.” And each alternative you suggest to him will be shot down as unsuitable. You feel that short of putting on a clown’s costume and breaking into a circus jig, there’s nothing left for you to suggest as an antidote to boredom. You’re actually contemplating driving right back to work to get away from the litany of “I’m bored”. Of course, he’ll call you to tell you he’s bored, but he’ll only do it every half-hour, not every 2 minutes!
How do you break the vicious cycle?
If your children are young enough to accept your authority, tell them, “Here’s a Bored Box. I’ll put pieces of paper in it. Each paper will have a chore listed. The next time you tell me you’re bored, you have to pick a paper from the Bored Box and do that chore. If you do it, great! If you don’t do the chore, you choose a piece of paper from the Correction Box. “You only get one bed-time story read to you – not two.” “You get a shorter-than-usual playtime.” Enforce. Enforce. Enforce. (You said they listen to you! :-))
Here’s another approach. “I’m bored,” she says. Grin delightedly (alright, I know you don’t feel it, but parenting comes with its own share of drama, as you well know :-)) and say, “Great!” Not one word more.
She will keep hitting you with the two dreaded words till you want to scream, but do not respond. Harsh on you, I agree, especially when you’d give a lot to get her off your back, but this is the only way to break the cycle.
She’ll sulk, scream, throw a tantrum – whatever it is, just grit your teeth and bear it. She’ll just have to settle for being bored, till she can come up with some way to amuse herself. Let her take responsibility for herself. Eventually, she’ll find a way out. It may take a week or a month, but you’ll find “I’m bored” flung at you far less frequently.
Of course, there are far pleasanter ways to avoid relentless assault by the “I’m bored” missile. Until the next post!